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First Read's Morning Clips

<p>A roundup of the day’s most important political stories</p>

OBAMA AGENDA: Signing the minimum wage executive order

“President Obama's executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers under future federal contracts includes a key provision to address concerns raised by advocates for disabled workers, according to the White House,” USA Today writes. “The president, who is set to sign the order at a ceremony in the White House East Room on Wednesday afternoon, announced his plan to take unilateral action at last month's State of the Union Address and hike the minimum wage for low-wage workers to $10.10 from the current rate of $7.25.”

The New York Times looks the White House solving the seating riddle at the state dinner for France last night. Seated next to Hollande and to President Obama’s right was Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Stephen Colbert, who is not French at all despite his insisted pronunciation of his last name, was seated to Michelle Obama’s left.

The VP was seated next to the Veep.

Americans suddenly like the French. Gallup finds that 78% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the country, up from a low of 34% in 2003, back in the days of “Freedom Fries.”

National Journal, in a very dry and funny way, takes apart all the false rumors against President Obama that run rampant on conservative blogs and in email forwards.

CONGRESS: House relents, Cruz vows to fight

AP notes of Boehner’s rule that a debt-limit increase would only happen for equal spending cuts: “It was once the backbone of the House Republican majority — the hard-line stand that brought President Barack Obama to the negotiating table and yielded more than $2 trillion in deficit reduction. On Tuesday, it abruptly vanished, the victim of Republican disunity and a president determined not to bargain again.” Only 28 Republicans voted for it.

Ted Cruz is threatening to filibuster the debt-ceiling bill. But he is also promising not to delay a vote with the impending snow storm. So that means, no long talking filibuster is likely, but he wants to force the Senate to need 60 votes for passage. Democrats will need to find five votes. And that will mean Republicans having to make tough votes. Here’s looking at the usual aisle-crossing Republicans – Kirk, Ayotte, Collins, etc.

By the way, Cruz is also heading to Iowa March 18. It’s his fourth trip there in eight months.

And Cruz is the subject for the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “Tellingly, Cruz — who is denouncing the new GOP immigration principles as “amnesty” — is openly calling on the party to wait until 2015 to debate immigration reform. The Senator claims this is because Republicans may control the Senate next year — giving them more pull in immigration negotiations. But there may be another reason: Cruz is widely expected to run for president, and he’d surely love an opportunity to demagogue the heck out immigration next year to appeal to a far right chunk of the GOP primary electorate.”

Well, I guess we know whose idea that was… “Republicans hastily moved Tuesday to pass a bill reversing cuts to military pensions. But one influential Republican didn’t go along: Paul D. Ryan, the man who brokered the deal enacting the cuts in the first place,” Roll Call writes. “ ‘This bill undermines one part of last year’s bipartisan budget agreement,’ the Wisconsin Republican and Budget Committee chairman said in a statement after the vote. ‘I’m glad it keeps the compensation reforms for federal employees and billions of dollars in commonsense cuts. But on military compensation, it takes a step back.’”

OFF TO THE RACES: Let the races begin!

Is today the real beginning of the 2014 election cycle? It sure looks that way on Capitol Hill, The Hill notes.

The New York Times looks at key gubernatorial races and coins the phrase the “Rustbelt Four.” “Perhaps the most closely watched races will be in four Northern industrial states whose white working-class voters were once solidly Democratic but are now up for grabs. Besides Mr. Walker, the Rustbelt Four are Govs. Rick Snyder of Michigan, John R. Kasich of Ohio and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania,” it writes. “Their aging industrial economies lag behind the rest of the nation. But compared with 2010, when recession-era unemployment spiked near double digits, the improved jobs picture in all four states will buff the incumbents’ images. Organized labor, fighting in its traditional heartland, has identified the four as top targets this year. How the governors fare will say a lot about whether their conservative policies provide a template for their party’s ability to appeal to independents and wavering Democrats in 2016, or whether those voters can be coaxed back to the Democrats.”

USA Today: “The GOP's major targets include seven Senate seats now held by Democrats in states that Obama lost in the 2012 election, and where his approval ratings in 2013 averaged 43% or less. And there are signs some Democrats are distancing themselves from Obama on issues such as the proposed Keystone oil pipeline and the economy in general.”

Rand Paul’s joining a lawsuit, suing Obama, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, and NSA Director Keith Alexander for what he and the conservative group FreedomWorks sees as the president having “publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the Fourth Amendment” as it relates to the NSA. Guess who is the counsel for the group? Ken Cuccinelli. National Journal: “Paul will join the suit officially on Wednesday. After the filing, he'll hold a presser in front of the courthouse with Cuccinelli and [Freedom Works’ Matt] Kibbe. That's scheduled for 11 a.m.”

“Big money, top strategists and party insiders are diving into what could be the most hotly contested 2014 races – Secretary of State,” Politico writes. “The sleepy administrative offices have suddenly captured the attention of some of the country’s major political players, who’ve formed national PACs and sketched out multimillion-dollar fundraising plans. As the nation’s secretaries of state descend on Washington starting Wednesday for the National Association of Secretaries of State’s winter conference, this election year, Washington is coming to them.”

Sarah Palin will be talking at CPAC again.

Mitt Romney thinks Olympic spending is out of control and it should be stopped with a mandated cap set by the International Olympic Committee.

A Democratic Super PAC is up with new TV ads hitting Republicans in North Carolina and Arkansas.

ARKANSAS: Bill Clinton sent out an email for Mike Ross (D), who is running for governor.

CALIFORNIA: Mmm. Drink it in. San Diego. It always goes down smooth… Moderate Republican Kevin Faulconer becomes the only Republican mayor of a top 10 U.S. city and the only Republican mayor in California with his victory in the special election for mayor of San Diego, 55%-45%. He replaces the disgraced Democrat Bob Filner. Filner was the first Democrat to hold the job in 20 years. Faulconer played down his party identification in a city that voted by 25 points for President Obama. Democrats also enjoy a 13-point voter registration advantage - despite its long history of Republican mayors and congressmen.

National Democrats took a message from Bill de Blasio’s win in New York. One has to wonder if the national GOP would take a message from Faulconer, in particular his focus on governance and on the most needy, compassion which he displayed in this ad.

Despite Faulconer downplaying his party affiliation, the Republican National Committee touted the victory.

The New York Times: “The victory by Kevin Faulconer will make San Diego the largest city run by a Republican and raises the possibility that the 47-year-old former public relations executive could become an important leader in the efforts to rebuild the G.O.P. in California.” More: “Mr. Alvarez’s campaign had tried to ride a wave of liberal populism, focusing on issues like raising the minimum wage and providing new city services in struggling neighborhoods. On the other hand, Mr. Faulconer emphasized his stances on fiscal issues like support of pension reforms and contracting out city services, saying such efforts would enable the city to pay for other improvements.”

NEW JERSEY: Christie hinted that perhaps more firings were coming.

NORTH CAROLINA:Politico: “Americans for Prosperity, a group co-founded by the conservative billionaires, has already dropped $8.2 million on TV, radio and digital ads in an effort to defeat the North Carolina Democrat. According to sources tracking media buys, the group has so far spent more in North Carolina than all Democratic outside groups in every Senate race in the country — combined.”

SOUTH CAROLINA: Lindsey Graham’s up with his first ads for reelection. They dub him a “Conservative,” and a “Fighter.” They note that he opposed Obamacare, “led the fight on Benghazi,” and is a “champion” for the military.